Most of us do our best to keep our electricity bill as low as possible every month by turning off lights when they’re not needed, using more efficient light bulbs, or using a programmable thermostat. One man accidentally found out a neat “hack” for reducing your electricity bill and got in a whole lot of trouble for it. Now, he was furious with his electricity provider, and he wants everyone on the internet to know it.
A Handy Magnet
In a 2014 YouTube video entitled “How to lower your electric bill…Oncore said I was meter tampering really!”, the man in question expressed his rage at his electricity provider, Oncore, for slapping him with a 340 dollar fine for allegedly tampering with the electricity meter on the side of his house.
The man collects scrap metal and uses magnets to determine whether or not what he’s found is metal or some other material. As it turns out, he liked to store one of his magnets stuck to the side of his electricity meter, because, quite simply, it was a ‘handy place to keep it.’
When workers from Oncor came to have a look at his meter, he initially thought nothing of it. That is until he received a notice in the mail stating that he was being charged a fine for keeping the magnet on his meter, and was accused of meter tampering. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when the already-furious Oncor customer went out to have a look at his meter, he found out that they had taken his magnet. Let the magnet battle begin.
Taking the Magnet Battle to YouTube
Now, he was in a complete rage. The man took to YouTube to express his frustration and anger, saying:
“If [that magnet] right there- if that, stuck anywhere on that meter, changes your electricity bill, I’m selling one of these to everybody on my block.” He continued to mock the company, and vent his anger to viewers:
“I’ve figured it out now… I’m gonna be rich right. See if my electricity bill changes Mr. Oncor! You’re gonna charge me 340 bucks for a magnet that I clean scrap with? Cause I kept it right there? Are you serious? Really?”
This man, at the very least, is one extremely unhappy customer . While this story is on the older side, it still seems to be making the rounds, even in 2021. It begs the question, can you actually steal electricity and use a magnet to do it?
While this video is quite comical, electricity theft and meter tampering are serious issues. According to estimates, electricity theft costs the industry as much as six billion dollars every year in the United States .
There are a few ways that someone could steal electricity. One is direct hooking from the line, which is when the user taps directly into the power line from a point ahead of the meter so that the meter itself can’t register any power and the utility provider can’t bill for it. This type of theft accounts for approximately eighty percent of theft worldwide .
The other method for stealing electricity is tampering with the meter itself. There is more than one way to do this, but typically it involves placing a foreign object or element, often a magnet, on the outside of the meter, which causes a failure or slower registration of power flow through the meter [2,3].
This, of course, is what was happening in the case of our scrap metal-collecting friend. He may not have realized what he was doing, but it is actually against the law.
You can also bypass the meter, which involves short-circuiting the input and output terminal, preventing energy from registering in the meter .
Over the last several years, advancements have been made in electricity meters to prevent theft from happening. Using precision converters and chip-scale transformers, new meters are now able to detect when they are being tampered with. While this only prevents tampering using a magnet, and not other types of theft, they are effective at decreasing the rate of electricity theft somewhat .
Not a Victimless Crime
If it seems like the only victims of this type of crime are the large electricity companies that seem to be continuously increasing the cost of electricity in your home, you’d be mistaken. Even if you pay your proper bill every month, you are also a victim of this type of crime.
“If a consumer steals energy, the cost of that theft is picked up by honest consumers who do pay their bills,” says Richard Williams, head of energy at the Northern Ireland Consumer Council where meter theft is also an issue .
According to Williams, this lost revenue is actually worked into the cost of the supplier, which eventually makes its way back through the system and is reflected on a higher bill for the rest of us.
The moral of the story is, if a scrap-metal collecting man in a ball cap tried to sell you a magnet to stick to your meter, politely decline. No one needs a magnet battle like this one on their hands.
- “Redneck’s Magnet Battle With Electric Company Is One For The Ages.” Whiskey Riff. Wes Langeler. July 26, 2017.
- “Detect and harden against non-intrusive tampering.” Smart Energy. January 29, 2019.
- “Smart Meter Advances Stop Electricity Theft.” Electronic Design. John Pitrus. March 14, 2014
- “Dozens jailed for electricity theft over three years.” BBC. Cormac Campbell. March 7, 2018.